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Humanity & Paper Balloons [DVD]

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  • Actors: Chôjûrô Kawarasaki, Kan'emon Nakamura, Tsuruzo Nakamura, Chôemon Bandô, Sukezo Sukedakaya
  • Directors: Sadao Yamanaka
  • Writers: Shintarô Mimura
  • Producers: Masanobu Takeyama
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: PG
  • Studio: Eureka
  • DVD Release Date: 25 July 2005
  • Run Time: 82 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007LYDIC
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,024 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


(Sadao Yamanaka, 1937) Japan | 1.33:1 OAR | Date of release: April 2005 Widely regarded as Yamanaka's greatest achievement, Humanity and Paper Balloons [Ninjo kami fusen] was, tragically, his last film, and only one of three that survive today. In a short, six year, 22 film career Yamanaka quickly earned a reputation for exceptionally fluid editing and a beautiful visual form likened to the paintings of Japanese masters. The story develops in the Tokugawa era of the 18th century, in a poor district of Tokyo, where impoverished samurai live from hand to mouth among equally poor people of lower social classes. One such ronin (masterless samurai) Matajuro, spends his day looking for work whilst his wife, Otaki, makes cheap paper balloons at home. One rainy night, Shinza, a barber, and equally penniless, impulsively abducts the daughter of a wealthy merchant, hiding her at Matajuro's home. Their desperate plan has grave consequences when a ransom attempt backfires. The film, which starts and ends with suicide, is deeply pessimistic, insisting that life in feudal Japan was hellish and short for those at the foot of the social ladder. Humanity and Paper Balloons premiered the day Yamanaka was drafted to the frontline at the start of WWII. He died in Manchuria, 1938, aged just 29. Boasting naturalistic performances and fine ensemble playing (from the left-wing theatre troupe Zenshin-za), The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present this rare gem for the first time on home video in the West.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By hj on 14 Sept. 2005
Format: DVD
Yamanaka has always been something of a legend in Japanese cinema: young radical film-maker of the 1930s, sent to Manchuria never to return and so, unlike Kurosawa, Ozu & Mizoguchi et al, he wasn't able to achieve maturity & a reputation in the post war era. Worse still, most of his several highly regarded films were destroyed in the war, only two survive. Humanity & Paper Balloons is basically a social realist drama about the inhabitants of a lower class neighbourhood exacting a 'comic' revenge on the gangsters and businessmen who oppress them. Obviously the film is a leftist allegory of sorts, relating to fascistic Japanese capitalism in the 1930s. Although downbeat, the film is not at all heavy handed or dour, it's beautifully directed and acted, comparable in ironic tone to Renoir perhaps. The poignancy in the film comes from an impoverished samurai couple in the neighbourhood who try to maintain their dignity with tragic results. This is a brilliant DVD edition in the excellent Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' series: a transfer from restored Toho original, new subtitles, a few extras and a comprehensive booklet with essays by well known critics including Tony Rayns. As usual with DVD and CD booklets the print is needlessly small & headache-inducing (ok I probably need glasses but still...). Overall, a thoroughly recommended DVD of a fine film. Let's hope they next release Yamanaka's other surviving gem, Million Ryo Pot.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Budge Burgess on 26 Mar. 2009
Format: DVD
One of three films by director Sadao Yamanako in 1937 (he died in 1938 after having been drafted into the army). Set in 18th century Japan, it will contain many images familiar in Japanese cinema - tight sets, a sense of claustrophobic community with much of the action taking place in one narrow little street or tenement block, the camera shooting down streets emphasising the congestion and lack of privacy. And there will be rain. As a Scot, I'm aware that we constantly complain about the rain - the Japanese cinema celebrates it, it is a regular feature in Japanese films, a recognition that the climate and nature are essential to our being and cannot be excluded from life.

'Humanity and Paper Balloons' is a little cameo drama, an exploration of the struggle ordinary people face in making a living. It features a small community, the individuals and families who rent rooms or apartments from a single, slum landlord, their accommodation built round a small court or close rather than a 'street'. We begin with a suicide - an old samurai, down on his luck, too old to work at his profession, stripped of any role: he can't even take the 'honourable' way out because he has pawned his sword, so has to hang himself.

This is a community of street traders, ne'er do wells and drinkers, and hard working but impecunious families. Central to the plot is the gambler-come-hairdresser, Shinza (the film is based on a Japanese drama called "Shinza the barber"), and a down-on-his-luck samurai whose wife earns a living making paper balloons. The film will use the visual analogy of the balloons being at the mercy of wind and rain in the way the poor are at the mercy of the rich, the powerful, and the gangster.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By W. Hamilton on 16 Feb. 2009
Format: DVD
This film was made in 1937 though its subject-matter concerns an earlier troubled era, a hundred years or so before, when the ediface of the Tokugawa state was crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions and inertia. The film is a period drama, in one sense, but is interested in things other than sword play (that would be too flashy). The story revolves around three characters: a hair dresser-turned-gambling organiser taking on the local gangster boss; a penniless ronin samurai trying to gain an interview with the big-wig his father once helped to prosperity; and a young woman trying to avoid a marriage she does not favour because she is in love with her father's employee. Yamanaka weaves these lives together with great delicacy and naturalness. His cinemagraphic eye is remarkably clear, and the sincerity of his belief in the human struggles observed invests the film with surprising power. It is an old film - though a good print and transfer for its age. But nothing can dull its brilliance. I came to this film knowing nothing much about it, but it won me completely. Give it a try.
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